Years of inaction sparks anger

Emergency services at the scene of the crash Sunday.

Politicians and locals are hopeful that changes are coming for the notorious intersection of the Gocup Road and Snowy Mountains Highway after a pregnant woman and her two daughters were involved in a tragic accident. One of the girls, ten years old, has died while the other, four years old, is in recovery.

The mother and 21-week-old baby were airlifted to Canberra and kept on life support while family said their goodbyes.  

The 29-year-old woman had been living in Canberra with her partner and was travelling with her daughters to visit a friend in Tumut when her vehicle was travelling along Gocup Road and was involved in a collision with a truck coming along the highway.

Police are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the accident.

Tim Martin, owner of the Brewery which overlooks the intersection, said his staff have been having nightmares about the crash, with four young workers, aged 17-23 working at the time. He’s been reviewing security camera footage, which he’s sharing with police. Accidents happen so frequently at the intersection that the Brewery has approached the State Emergency Service to get a basic emergency rescue kit for these kinds of tragedies.

“Every time this happens, we run down there with fire extinguishers and towels and stuff,” he said, “You don’t want to not help, but we don’t carry equipment for this kind of accident.”

As Mr Martin was making his comments on Thursday, he watched a truck pull up across his driveway, unable to stop in time for the intersection.

“It’s just mental. It never stops here,” he said.

With the Brewery almost always open and staffed, kitchen and bar staff have frequently been thrust into the role of emergency response, but Mr Martin said the only thing they can do is make phone calls and try to comfort accident victims. 

“We’re always open, we’re always here and we’re not made for that. This is not something I ever thought I’d have to deal with.”

His staff were the first on scene and “weren’t capable of providing any real assistance,” he said. 

“Just to see somebody get injured in that way so directly; it was pretty shocking for them.”

Despite numerous accidents at the intersection over the past three decades, the crash was the first fatality at the intersection in at least 30 years.

Mr Martin said one Brewery patron stepped in and took control of the situation and started organising people, but he wasn’t known to the staff.

“There was one bloke in particular who clearly was in the right state of mind to be of assistance,” said Mr Martin after watching the footage. 

“I don’t know if he was just a control freak or if he was trained, but he was very helpful.”

After spending seven years at the Brewery, Mr Martin said he’d become desensitised to the regular accidents and “lulled into a false sense of security” with fewer accidents recently with fewer cars on the road.

In all his time, this was the first time anybody had been seriously injured. 

“I assume that’ll make a difference,” he said. “That’s the sad truth of the reality that we’re in that until someone got really hurt they probably won’t pay attention.”

The accident certainly had the attention of local MP Dr Joe McGirr, who was in Tumut on Thursday as part of the NSW Government’s announcements about Snowy 2.0.

“The community has been pushing for decades to get that intersection fixed,” he said. “I’ve been pushing since I got elected. We did manage to get some upgrades approved beyond what they have been proposing, and those will commence shortly, but there needs to be more.”

The upgrades will start next week and create some improvements around the intersection, but Dr McGirr said the possibility of installing traffic lights needs to be considered.

“The community have been asking for traffic lights there for some time. I agree that needs to be done.”

During the Snowy 2.0 meetings, Dr McGirr said he took time aside to speak with Deputy Premier John Barilaro about the intersection, beside Snowy Valleys Mayor James Hayes, and shared with Mr Barilaro some dashcam footage of the intersection which made an impression.

“[Mr Barilaro] is going to speak with the Minister for Roads (Paul Toole), and I‘ve written to both him and the Minister for Roads to get this matter looked at,” said Dr McGirr.

“I think this accident is an absolute tragedy, but it’s highlighted the concerns of locals and the reasons they do want this intersection to have something like traffic lights to make it safe.”

Speaking to the Times on Tuesday, Mr Barilaro said the state government is going to “take this one seriously”.

“[We’re going to] take a look at what RMS is planning, and if there’s an opportunity to fast track then we’ll do so,” he said.

When asked why work hasn’t been completed on the intersection sooner, Mr Barilaro said that he doesn’t know, and that the brief of the intersection is currently with Minister for Roads Paul Toole.

“He’s got the brief, we’re looking at the process but if I can speed it up we will.

“Often it’s funding more than anything … but this particular intersection seems to have now a bit of history in relation to accidents and that’s something that I’ll make sure we focus on.

“We’ll have to come back and update you on what that looks like.”

Tumut resident and Shadow Minister for Industry and Trade Mick Veitch said he was frustrated there hadn’t been “a full appreciation of the danger of the intersection within Transport for NSW” until now.

“Sadly, locals have been warning a big accident was going to happen here,” he said. “I think that while there’s been a lot of near misses – and there are regular near accidents – there probably hasn’t been a fatality involved and maybe that’s what’s affected their decisions.

“The community’s concerns have been there, and there’s anger in the community that has been expressed to me that this should have been done decades ago.”

Mr Veitch said he felt like the Government has “got the picture” now that a ten year old has died. 

“The Government needs to talk to the community in a meaningful way about the appropriate solution for that intersection,” he said. “I know there are people in the community that have got some suggestions that are well worth investigating and I’d encourage the Government to talk to the community about these solutions.”

Mr Veitch insisted that stop signs are not enough for the intersection, and an appropriate solution cannot be “put off” any longer, even with intense budget pressures from recent bushfires and Covid-19.

“The government of the day gets to prioritise where money is spent and I’d say to the government of the day: ‘You need to prioritise this intersection. It needs to be done.’

“It’s a very sad circumstance and it should not have come to this.”